Westward and Snowbound: New Mexico’s Oasis for Skiiers
written by JENNIFER COLOSIMO | photography courtesy of SKI SANTA FE; RED RIVER SKI AREA; JENNIFER COLOSIMO
Not a winter goes by that I don’t miss the chance to click my snow boots into a pair of skis, crunch my way to the lift line and be whisked to the top (well, the semi-top) of a butterfly-inducing run. I miss it because that’s pretty hard to come by when you’re a Georgia girl. Other than yearly trips in my younger days when I’d slide across the icy slush in Gatlinburg, Tenn. or slice my way through various Virginia resorts, there’s nothing like landing on the soft, fresh powder of a West Coast run. That, my ski-loving (or curiously novice) friends, is worth planning for more than a weekend’s drive.
The ticket to book? Delta has a direct flight to Albuquerque, N.M., where less than an hour away lies a handful of some of the best skiing I’ve ever done. And whether your group is ready to road trip it through a lot of slope miles, or settle in and get to know a resort like a rescue dog, there’s a perfect spot to stick your poles.
Sure, it really and truly feels like you’re on an Alpine vacation when the snow is falling and your fingers are freezing, but the benefit of Ski Santa Fe is that the blue skies deliver topnotch powder with temperatures
to tempt your tropical side. Families of skiers and single young bucks who want nights downtown to match their days on the slopes should look to cut their edges here. Just 15 minutes from downtown Santa Fe, you’re easily in and out for a day on or off the mountain.
It boasts some of best views from its highest lift — which sits 12,000 feet in the air, second in height only to Jackson Hole and Breckenridge. Lift tickets are less than $80 and ski school is low maintenance, for 6- or 60-year-old first timers alike. With long, winding blue runs through sun-dappled alleys, row after row of bumpy, tree-dotted black diamonds and even a terrain park where kids can race through tunnels, Ski Santa Fe has something for everyone.
In town, recover and refuel with the guacamole from Blue Corn Café. Or, indulge in a steaming bowl of posole or
cheesy chorizo enchiladas from The Shed. Both are downtown, both offer red and green chile sauce (a distinguishing palate staple in New Mexico) and both will leave you in a food coma until the next day’s skiing starts. I slept through that coma at the luxurious Hotel Santa Fe, enjoying complimentary happy hours and
cozy breakfasts, an in-room fireplace and plenty of Native American charm. Locals will also tell you that a cozy, lodge feel for less rests at Sage Inn.
As much as the entire trip was something to remember, I will never forget the culture of Red River Ski Area. Whether a cocktail shared at The Lift House or a sight-seeing drive around town, there’s a moment when you feel like the hours it took to get you there actually brought you right back home. Nestled in the tiny town of Red River, about three hours from Santa Fe, it’s a place for friends and families of seasoned skiers or beginners who cherish the thought of “getting away.” Designate a driver because it only takes a mile outside the stoplights to get hypnotized by the endless horizon of mountains, the Rio Grande Gorge and the occasional big horn sheep scaling the roadside cliffs.
But get ready to trade in your nostalgia for ski gear, because the crew working this mountain is ready to ride the lifts. With the staff, you’ll hear stories of the night before, the crazy jump someone did last week or get in on the plans to meet for a spot in the “Shot Ski” line once the lifts close. It’s a stay that promises new friends, good skiing and a full belly.
Locals cite Shotgun Willie’s as a must for breakfast. Plus, the owner is from the Southeast, so they know how to serve up buttermilk biscuits and bacon. Since the lifts are closed after dark, my group boarded a snowcat and crawled the face of the slope toward a steak dinner, live music and plenty of wine atop the mountain at
The Tip Restaurant. It was worth sacrificing the night’s soak in the hot tub simply for the experience.
To build on that homegrown, mountain town feeling, rest your head — and finally soak your limbs! — at Auslander Condominiums. From here, you can walk right up to the lifts, the bar and over to the town’s adorable coffee shops, restaurants and shopping.
Taos Ski Valley
I spent the several hours’ drive to Taos frantically scoping the landscapes for something that would seem like Julia Roberts’ house. Even though I’m not sure I ever found it, it is clear there’s a reason she made Taos her home. In my opinion, it’s an unbeatable chemistry of an adorable downtown rich in history, unique art and
good food, not to mention a trail map that winds its way through Aspen trees along the ridge and an abundance of diverse food dotted along the Ski Valley Resort. Originally family owned and operated, it still maintains a close-knit feel that radiates throughout the mountain, with friendly faces offering hellos (and “on your
rights!”) all the way down.
Cash in on an après ski cocktail at Tim’s Stray Dog Cantina daily if you choose, but only with the assumption a
reservation for The Bavarian is confirmed at some point. Authentic schnitzel, rich gnocchi and a hoard of other comfort food staples enjoyed at grand tables lit by soft, warm light transport you to another place.
For slope-side luxury, ski lockers and a fire-warmed lounge, head for Edleweiss – a modern apartment-style lodge overlooking the slopes. Traditional travelers will appreciate the charismatic hospitality at Hotel Saint Bernard, one of the valley’s oldest lodging spots (boasting yet another great spot to dine). Off the resort are a multitude of independently owned retreats perfect for transporting your skis.
Red River, Taos and Ski Santa Fe are just a handful of the well-appreciated resorts in New Mexico, all with welcoming staff, gorgeous terrain, smaller crowds and more affordable vacation packages than the populous spots in surrounding states. For a place known for its desert climate, rest assured they’ve locked down on what it takes to entertain even the most apt of skiers. In fact, I miss it again … already.